Sunday 18 February 2018

Europe agrees to give €200m for Irish flood protection

A member of the fire service takes a short break as flooding continues in Bandon, Co. Cork, following storm Frank. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
A member of the fire service takes a short break as flooding continues in Bandon, Co. Cork, following storm Frank. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sarah Collins in Brussels

Ireland is to get a €200 million loan for flood prevention and protection from the European Investment Bank following a series of storms that battered the country in recent weeks.

It is the first time Ireland has received money for this purpose from the EIB, the EU’s long-term lending arm.

The bank has already provided other European countries with more than EUR3 billion for flood protection and prevention and EUR1.1 billion for post-flood reconstruction since 2008.

“We are very happy to be able to provide some support,” said Jonathan Taylor, the EIB’s vice-president for environment and climate action, who was in Brussels yesterday [THURS] and spoke to the Irish Independent. “For both the EIB and the Irish Government, addressing flood risk is a clear priority.”

The money is for flood prevention and will not be able to help with the clean-up costs from the most recent storms.

According to the EIB, the Government has around 30 flood-related projects in mind, nine of which are flood prevention schemes - including one on the River Lee in Cork. 

However, the loans will be conditional on the projects fully complying with EU environmental laws, including those on natural habitats, which have come under fire in recent weeks from certain TDs.

At a meeting in Brussels this week, the European Commission reassured Irish MEPs and TDs that EU laws do not prevent drainage works or slow down post-flooding clean-up operations.  

The EIB will verify whether each project complies with EU legislation before approving it. Mr Taylor will be visiting Ireland in the coming weeks “to ensure that our support for flood protection and prevention is rapidly put in place”.

 To draw down the EIB money, the Government will have to stump up 55% of the total cost of the projects, or EUR245 million.

The EIB would not disclose the interest rate on the loans, but says it is competitive, given that its triple A rating allows it to borrow cheaply on the markets and it is obliged to pass on those benefits.

The maturity on the loans is 25 years.

The money will be invested by the Office of Public Works over the next five years.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Simon Harris, while welcoming the EIB loan, said that the conditions for accessing disaster aid from the European Commission should be relaxed.

Ireland is unlikely to meet the thresholds for aid from the EU’s solidarity fund, which is available only for damages in excess of 0.6pc of gross national income - or EUR983 million in Ireland’s case.

The fund has a regional disasters clause where thresholds start at EUR460 million (for the Border, Midland and Western region) and from which Ireland benefitted following the 2009 floods, but it is not yet clear whether recent flooding will be costly enough to warrant aid.

"I think at this stage it’s unlikely highly unlikely that we can meet the thresholds for European support, though we rule nothing out,” Mr Harris told journalists in Brussels yesterday [THURS].

"I do feel that the thresholds are too high. I do feel that they’re particularly too high for smaller countries,” he said on his way into a euro finance ministers’ meeting, where he was representing Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

He said he would be asking the Commission to look at changing the rules to allow EU countries to make joint applications for emergency funding.

“Storms don’t recognise countries’ boundaries, they don’t recognise national borders,” he said. “The idea that currently you can’t access the EU solidarity fund by countries coming together to submit an application, I think is something that should also be reviewed."

The Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, will be meeting with EU environment chief Karmenu Vella next week to discuss EU flood rules.

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